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The San Diego Unified board tentatively gave its blessing to nearly $45.3 million in budget cuts for next school year, including $2 million culled from its central offices, $1.2 million by changing school schedules so that bus routes could be streamlined, and $9 million from a golden handshake to push senior employees out the door. None of the cuts would involve layoffs, salary cuts or furloughs.
But the work is not done. The school district faces a shortfall of more than $63 million for next year due to a combination of state budget cuts and rising costs in fuel, utilities, salaries and benefits. It is also trying to scrounge up an additional $14 million to redirect towards a new formula for individual school budgets. And though the first round of cuts were relatively painless, the remaining options are almost universally unpleasant or unpopular, ranging from cutting teachers to make classes larger, trimming salaries, gutting arts programs or closing small elementary schools. Many of those options would mean layoffs or require bargaining with employee groups to be realized.
“We are in a very precarious situation,” said Superintendent Terry Grier. He added, “I worry that this gap is going to continue to broaden. This is not a onetime problem.”
The cuts are not finalized, said Linda Zintz, interim director of communications for San Diego Unified, but the vote indicates that the school board is supportive of the ideas and would like to see them incorporated into a final budget proposal. School districts must complete their annual budgets by the end of June each year.
The next step is for school board members and the superintendent to comb through the list of possible cuts and prioritize their ideas. School board members agreed to put together their preferred cuts by Thursday for a Sunday meeting on the budget.
“I just find it appalling,” said school board member Richard Barrera, referring to how the state Legislature has handled the budget crisis. He was particularly upset by state decisions to limit how much textbook funding could be freed up to cover other needs. Barrera added, “Shame on them.”
Last week, the school board made $33.2 million in cuts for the current budget year.